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Once in a while, I get a tingling feeling on the back of my neck.

This was from Pathfinder Linden Lester a while back. Having been out of the zone a bit since I left work, I’ve only managed to keep the littlest of fingers on the pulse, mostly via Pathfinder and @graymills (thankyou).  But it feels as though over the last few weeks/months things have begun hotting up more…

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I never did quite get around to writing a blog for my avatar in secondlife (tho she has an account for this blog, if I organised myself properly, partly because more…

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Category: photos, Second Life  Tags: ,  Comments off

Have seen a couple of things recently which make me wish I’d had time to write up more things on avatar identity ( see also the post Blurred Lives) while I was working, perhaps based on the things I talked about in this: more…

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Category: Life, Second Life  Tags: , ,  Comments off

In the Greek classes we’ve been doing since we arrived here  we often end up with Yoda speak while we are sorting out the sentence order (in case you were wondering).

I just managed to skip a bit of greek homework which I’ll have to do now, to join the UK SL educators in the regular second tuesday meetings, about the decision by Linden Labs to cancel the education and not-for-profit discount on land prices. This is really very sad, although I’ve not been able to get into SL really while I’ve been here, I was hoping to do some project work here over the time and I’ve just got an article proposal accepted for a write up of the best practices I’ve seen/created over the last five years. I meant that to be a summary of my stuff for me to move on, not because SL had just fallen on its nose. I’ve been sort of excited by a couple of blog posts from Pathfinder about getting OS running and connected, but since LL have changed the market place as well and wiped my favourites I can’t even go back and buy some things to help me move my stuff.

So I turned up tonight and instead of being able to have fun catching up on people’s plans for this year, it was sad catching up on people’s plans for the year, and I shall certainly be following their progress. I’ve read with real sorrow some of the comments on the main posting, and will attempt to forgive the people who say good, educators were abusing the discounts, all these free grants (well, I would say I know a couple of projects that are overfunded while the rest of us have got away with scratching in the dirt and developing out of our own pockets) and were also objecting to some of the historical roleplay sims (frankly unacceptable and outrageous in my book too) so to those people I would say, I hear your comments, but have some respect for the work that many of us have done in good faith, often bringing new users to be resident after their educational experience.

Ah well. Guess my post about leaving SL wasn’t so far from the truth. Glad I was there though. Hope to one day meet up with everyone else again some place…

ps, I was going to put another picture here, but I got even sadder looking at my loads of pictures from these last years. *sob*

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Category: Second Life  Tags:  Comments off

I’ve been intrigued for a little while now about identity online. For a couple of different reasons, not necessarily for open discussion, but prompted by things perhaps other than missing Mark Childs’ deadline for proposals on avatar identity or reading/writing social media guidelines. Yesterday I took my alt shopping, seems she’s been left a bit shabby while I’ve spent more time on the Teeslife workers, and I wanted to get back to being her, incase I feel I want to log in more as her than as me in the coming months. This may be a little foiled by the fact that I’ve grown increasingly fond of my main avatar recently, and I’d be even less keen to give her up than ever. I suppose I should use my alt to be me, or to work, and me to work or be me more, but I don’t really want an artificial distinction like that and also it would be tricky with object ownership. There are in fact things around Teeslife – though I kind of set out not to – which she made, but on the whole I’ve kept her fairly out of the way of the people I come across through work. I’ve always seen her as a slightly separate twin of my main alt, and I’ve got a couple of pictures of them hanging out together that is really cute.

Anyway yesterday we went shopping, was a bit gutted that some of my fave shops had disappeared, even though I wasn’t really setting out to replicate my wardrobe. I have to say, as we looked for good looking well fitting jeans I felt a greater empathy than usual – she began to feel more like me then. I’ve been taking photos of avatars at events recently, partly in remembramce of Robbie Dingo’s ‘Mask’, which I’m going to put together somewhere (I didn’t ask them, nor note their names, so slightly worried people will recognise themselves!) and it always fascinates me that you can recognise avatars at events from a distance as there’s usually some aspect of them that makes it them. With an alt, the whole point, kind of, is that they’re not the same (or maybe it is, depending on why they’re alts!) or that people can be people that they’re not.

Which is really the underpinning of this reflection I’ve been on. When I first got the necklace that I usually wear, it was no trans, but at some point it turned up also in a goody bag which was a trans version. Having bought a jumper which needed a necklace to work (heh, there’s hope for me yet, I might turn into a Sheila-type accessoire-ess…) I remembered I had a trans copy, so I handed one over. And the minute she put it on, I suddenly sensed she was me in a way that I never have before. It was really interesting – quite instant. And also suddenly I felt that although she doesn’t look like me, people might recognise her as me if I loitered about the places I usually do with the people I usually do. Should a necklace make a difference?!

I often worry Angela by logging in with one of the uni accounts (well I’m hardly really likely to try out the iPad app with my main av, am I?) but I think she pretty quickly recognises I’m me. Most people who know me online but who actually know me for real would (I think, though they are free to disagree – I’d be fascinated to know differently) say that if you know me, then the me that you meet online is recognisably me. I’m a rotten liar and have no real pretension to be anyone I’m not, so I think I’m comforted friends have told me this is the case. It rather depends on how well you know me, and some years ago we had a long discussion on my blog about the different layers that getting to know me required. And what came out of it was that different people may well have felt differently about the me that they knew, depending on where they knew me from or for how long they’d known me. (This is partly questions I wanted to deal with in the presentation I gave at Cranmer last term, which I chose to take down for comments that were made on it)

This extant dichotomy among those who know me for real makes me begin to worry about those who don’t know me, who only really know me from what they have met online, or who bring the mental concept of who I am from who they think they have got to know online to any face to face meeting, and whether I live up to that, they are disappointed in the real me, or whether the blurring of the two allows for a richer relationship to develop. One of my points in last term’s presentation is that we have many layers, many faces, even without meaning to dissemble, and that it was perhaps possible that an online ‘persona’ (mask) may indeed be a more ‘real’ presentation of the ‘real’ person than a shy/disabled/etc real person.

In some ways, although this fascinates me deeply (see – I knew I should have got something to Mark!), it has taken on a fresh perspective recently. Well, two. Firstly, even without the guidelines on use of social media that came from Westcott – be careful what you put of yourself online, prospective employers and even potentially parishioners may look you up – I’ve had conversations over the last couple of years about identity as I move into my new role, and some of the how to be a vicar but also how not to be/when not to be/with whom not to be the vicar (also partly prompted by the good blog Vicar’s Wife as well as the most excellent Rev) is making me wonder how my identity will be affected as I pick up public ministry and how that will merge or create new layers; how much I will be able to be me, how much I shall be specifically not able to be me, and how me will change anyway.

Secondly, because I’ve got a little concerned recently about who people who only really know me online think I am/what they think they know, and how I can’t – and/or probably wouldn’t want to be that image – it’s an image, it’s not really me (my avatar’s only an image too, but she’s possibly more me than a composite picture of my online lives – or is she? or is she a product of the one, the other, or the both? is she the composite? am I a composite? Is this where I started?!),  I’ve also become more aware of and sensitive to what I believe others to be if I have spent little or no time with them in person. This doesn’t make me particularly more reticent (and I’ve never been one to think stalking facebook to know ‘everything’ about someone makes me their close friend), but it has made me wonder about expectations. Am not entirely sure what exactly about expectations yet. That I don’t want people to have unattainable ones of me, in any life and that I don’t want to assume things from the kaleidoscope of their lives which I see online. I am still entirely sure that an online relationship helps to broaden and deepen an existing relationship, maintain it (though not solely), but I am feeling a little spooked about the person you might think I am when I’m not. And what, if anything, I can do about that in your head. Or that I need to do. If anything.

Just remember which one of me I am ;-)

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packing up

I dread to think how much time I’ve put into Second Life over the last four (yes, four) years. Lots of it in the beginning was hanging out with friends on beaches, and exploring. It didn’t cost me much. Learning how to build took a while, and I still can’t script, so I’m still quite slow at creating things a professional might do better in a fraction of the time. Although a professional would charge for it, and I do it for free. In fact I don’t even do it anywhere near on work time, and I do it with my own money, which I always think isn’t very much – it probably still isn’t very much even if I added it up, but I don’t want to, just incase I’m wrong.

I’m having some major frustrations currently/over the last few months and it is quite tempting these days to just walk away. I’m still here because the frustration of throwing away the work I’ve done is (currently, but I don’t know for how much longer) greater than that I keep coming back to. You’re not throwing it away, I might hear you object, but in fact, I probably am. I have tried very hard over the last few months to encourage all the projects that are in planning or development to make use of me while I was there – there’s neither the interest or the time on my team to provide the support that I can. I appreciate this has been a worry to some of them and a reason to not push on with plans that may then be difficult to be supported, but I would have been happy to get them to a point that needed little support. And I appreciate that there are many other demands on academics’ time – I know this, I’ve been there – and I most certainly appreciate that the University is just not kitted out for it, despite having someone on my team tasked to get technical buy-in from IT (thought it had been agreed, then when I  and two other academics tried to actually log in and use for a class, it was borked – not an encouragement for teachers, I generally find) – so to use in class time it costs to hire one of the digital suites that can cope with the graphics. Even our training room which keeps being put off being upgraded is unusable. So there are many – still, even after all the snapshots JK has done – technical and time issues preventing obvious engagement with SL. But this is so SO frustrating because I still STILL believe that there is vast potential.

I’ve not had the time to publish lots of things, and there are many things beginning to be published on work undertaken in SL, so perhaps I’m going to be undermined by the evidence (though from what I’ve read so far, I think not) and there are many many detractors who would like this to be so. Then you get people like Gavin bowing out, and you wonder who might be next. And I wonder, I really wonder, if I should abandon any effort I might have still wanted to put in to trying to support staff with projects in plan/development get them ready and rolled out.

Because for all the work that I’ve put in, I’ve still seen very little come out. And it pains me to admit that, because there are people outside our institution that are impressed by what we’ve done. And, to be true, I go other places and I think, yes, I’m impressed by what we’ve managed to achieve too, but increasingly I think there is more creativity out there and that the environment is entering a new phase of design – I’m not totally a fan of entire scenarios made out of sculpties simply because my experience with crap kit make me know they’ll be inaccessible to many – and we want to be able to keep up. So some of my projects are ok, some are ok currently and fine as fit for purpose goes, and some are getting shabby, because they were begun a while ago.

I’d like to think I’ve been pretty supportive of staff wanting to do virtual world work. I’d like to think I’ve been prepared to do my utmost in helping them deliver it. I’ve certainly done my utmost in helping them to design something that will be worth their and their students’ efforts. Maybe this is why I’ve failed. Reading Stones into Schools and how the sad ending underlined the CAI’s determination that there has to be ownership of the schools has made me think I’ve offered too much help. But then I think without central help there’d be little chance of people being able to deliver or build their own scenarios. I still think that there is a place for students to use SL for building, and there’s a space for using SL for distance provision of teaching (which still has real potential in our institution), but my passion is to see it used for what I think it does best – give the students an environment that they can engage in realistic experience which cannot be rehearsed on campus. This has the potential to provide opportunities to practise ‘being professionals’ and in our culture of employabiliity pressure this is a great and cost-effective potential we should be grasping.

Maybe – well I know so – I have too many ideas. Too many dreams. Many dreams that I don’t have the scripting skills to deliver, and I would so dearly have loved funded projects over the last couple of years to have had as deliverables actual real reusable learning objects in the forms of items or scripts that can be easily re-formed for use in other scenarios. To me, that’s what the learning technology sector used to be about, and one of the things (lessening of collaboration and increase of competitivity) that I’ll not be missing when I leave it. At presentations last year I spent a lot of time trying to encourage people to see what we could share to save inventing so many damn wheels and re-energising the place with new  amazing experiences for students because the staff and the support staff could get further faster. This hasn’t really happened. In my presentation at Coventry (slides repeated below), I listed a few things that it would be helpful for us to have as building blocks for building scenarios and interactivities. I stand by them. As I stand by the earlier post which prompted some of the presentation and the later post which reiterates most of what is still in my head prompting this one.

One of the things that I’ve really wanted to be able to leave behind me are a set – even if it’s a small set – of things that might be useful to other people, whether that be IKEA colour changeable sofas or office chairs or laptops or some scripts. Or the avatar sets that are available free to anyone (not so necessary now LL have provided the whole new set of basic avs). I’ve been for a long while desperate to learn how to do the basic sets of scripting in the Uni Kansas operating room scenario written up in the Educause article, because I think this encapsulates some essentially basic interactive blocks from which you could build up effective learning. A bit like PIVOTE, which I was really excited by, but couldn’t navigate the web forms for and which didn’t actually negate the having to actually build the stuff in SL to get the interactions.

Since I finished work I’ve been up till all hours trying to get my head around some of these bits of scripts, specifically so they could be used in the particular examples of engagements that are wanted by some of my staff. And to a point I’ve succeeded. I’ve got a simple (they’re all very simple) time release running which enables for example a busy maternity ward to get new patient info throughout a simulated day/night shift, or for an NGO disaster operations room to get regular/irregular (text/audio/visual) updates from staff on the ground which can direct the students’ development of strategising, planning and managing. I’ve got a set of little boxes talking to each other so I can invisible some of them and make them ‘appear’ elsewhere (this would be so much more efficient if they were rezzed as opposed to invisible phantom become visible physical, but I still can’t do that) and I can use linked messages to change images on various objects dependent on choice/time. That’s not very impressive really, but I couldn’t do any of that two months ago, and all of it will make a difference to the interactivity and the dynmics of the projects we have that want to use SL.

Except. Except. Except that actually, as Stones into Schools made me think further into my presentation

to the slide on ‘Control’, I still end up with having the potential and not having stuff to act on. Most learning technology projects where they fail, fail because we’re waiting for input from staff who just don’t have the time/energy to produce it. I had a really good few development sessions with one school rep where we decided on the metaphor of a theatre to draw up the tasks for the project. And I think this is a useful way of planning.

It’s about imagining that they the academic is the director of a new play, and I am the technical director/producer. They need to do multiple things in the right order and on time, revising where necessary, to allow me to do the bits I need to do for it all to come together for opening night. (Actually, it could be taken much further if I were going to be producing any more presentations, but as I’m probably not I guess it doesn’t really matter). As technical director, I’m in no way capable of pulling off the production, but I do have a critical role to play. But I can’t do it without them. The director needs to write the screen play, decide a cast list, sort out the look and the image that he/she is aiming for. Then we talk it through, rationalise the technical requirements for each scene and then while he/she is developing the screenplay/script, I can be organising the hardware, furniture, backdrops and working out how scene one is going to transition into scene two, etc. As possibly wouldn’t happen in this scenario in the real world, I can also do a certain amount of scouting (if not actually casting) out the cast, taking photos of potential characters and taking the director to see them. So we end up with three lists, the script/content (academic responsibility); casting/characterisation/costume (academic decision responsibilty, my help out); technical/production director (my share, bringing it all together). However, it’s not my name on the board outside, it’s theirs. It’s not me up in lights. And to get up in lights, you can’t devolve to the producer, even if they’re a capable producer, because much of the input simply has to be yours. Just like the Wirghiz had to finish their school themselves because the US helicopters (ach, you don’t want me to give away the end).

Anyway – most of the projects that have been built on Teeslife have too much my stamp and not enough by the academics. And that is not making them succeed. Maybe I’ve been wrong in offering them a lot of guidance in trying to ensure that pedagogical reasoning underpins the developments, in order to make them really work, not just be flashes in the pan. Maybe my lack of coding skills has meant that they haven’t seen results fast enough to be able to envisage taking the developments and their students further. Maybe that’s been interference they didn’t really want, and should have had more complete control themselves. And yet I don’t see students actively engaging inworld when I log in when I have been around to help, and I know deep down that there’d be less if I wasn’t there. Which there likely will be next academic year as our team numbers are halved and there’s noone daft enough to take on my 1am building.

So where next? I really really really hope that some of the few projects that want to be available in the autumn succeed. I’m here to help before I leave, but then again staff are on holiday and it is already August. So I’m not sure. But if anyone else doesn’t already have more complex scripts for doing some basic interactive things like I’ve just finally managed to produce, and wants them, let me know. I’d like to think I’ve done something useful in the last three years.  I haven’t quite left yet, and I still plan to write up some broader ideas that I want to put out there that people could collaborate on if they were willing, but most days I’m increasingly thinking that the dreams that still deserve to be delivered may just end up going in a box marked ideas the world just wasn’t quite yet ready for. Or rather, my world, as there are lots of projects coming to pilot fruition in SL in UK HE, so it shows that there is the scope and the potential, regardless of the skeptic viewpoint. But it also means that even when the potential has the potential to really address some of the major strategic objectives universities today are facing, that it’s still an investment and you have to invest in it. And that needn’t be massively financially – but it needs more intellectual and time input than it currently is getting. And that needs the mental shift from tinkering about with a bit of a game, to a serious use of virtual worlds for professional need. And I’ve a paper in my head about that. At least I’ll be leaving that if and when I go.

*no, I’m not actually doing, not quite yet, anyhow, but I am considering it.

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